In his play, Measure for Measure, Shakespeare poses problems of law, justice, and personal freedom for which he offers no easy answers. Measure for Measure is very relevant to current political debates over public morality and the limits of self-expression. The play proposes the question: How do we reconcile social restraint and personal passion?
The Vienna of Measure for Measure, under the rule of Duke Vincentio, is a garden gone to seed. Permissiveness, corruption, and debauchery have choked out healthy growth in the absence of prudent cultivation. The play's climate of disillusionment finds modem resonance in the cynicism of the youth of today.
The play opens with the Duke preparing for a hasty yet deliberately ambiguous departure. Appointing morally impeccable Angelo as his replacement, the Duke passes over ice, a wise old judge named Escalus. But in a the obvious choice, play preoccupied with tests of character, it is appropriate that the city's most self righteous official undergoes the severest validation of his integrity. What follows is a drama of seduction. Angelo is tempted by the sins he condemns most harshly, sins, that release, him from the custody of his repressed desires. The Duke, who travels undercover to observe the effects of his lax rule, cautions Angelo in a manner suggesting his suspicion of the seductive power of authority. He is clearly interested in whether power will alter Angelo. Having failed himself to enforce the law, the Duke would, nevertheless, have Angelo be wary of the terrible power of judgment. He - advises his surrogate to fuse his personal values - what he believes in his heart with his public judg...
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...characters. The play, like the Duke, makes a plea for tolerance, drawing on the biblical injunction that underlies its title: "Judge not that ye be not judged, for with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again."
Works Cited and Consulted:
Geckle, George L. ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of Measure for Measure. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1970.
McLuskie, Kathleen. "Political Criticism and Shakespeare: King Lear and Measure for Measure" in Political Shakespeare: New Essays in Cultural Materialism, ed. Dollimor, Jonathan and Alan Sinfield. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1985, 88-108.
Shakespeare, William. Measure for Measure, ed. Brian Gibbons. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
Watts, Cedric. Measure for Measure. London: Penguin, 1986.
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